For Flyers prospect German Rubtsov, this was supposed to be his breakout season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms..
Instead, there were more injuries and more questions about a player who was selected in the first round (22nd overall) in the 2016 draft.
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Rubtsov was making an impact with Lehigh Valley in 2018-19. He had six goals and 10 points in 14 games and played solid defense before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
A natural center who can also play wing, Rubtsov looked fully recovered during the Flyers’ training camp in September after surgery and a grueling rehab. He even flirted with making the team.
After being demoted to the Phantoms, however, the 21-year-old forward ran into several obstacles, including a concussion.
“Ruby had multiple injuries, and he had some personal stuff with his girlfriend’s family and had to go back to Russia for a while,” Phantoms coach Scott Gordon said last week.
At one point, Rubtsov was recalled by the Flyers and made his NHL debut Nov. 1, but he was sent back to the Phantoms after three games without a point while getting limited fourth-line minutes.
“He went up and did OK, but with all the things going on, he never got into a stretch where he got into a rhythm," Gordon said. “Between being in and out of the lineup with injuries and the personal stuff, he never got a level of consistency in his play.”
With the Flyers, he ended up playing in four games and was pointless while averaging just 6 minutes, 48 seconds of ice time per game.
“It’s a hard thing for players to play five, six minutes a game for two weeks, and then when you come back down, you’re not at the same level you were when you’re accustomed to playing 15 to 20 minutes a game," Gordon said. "There always seems to be an adjustment period.”
By contrast, Nic Aube-Kubel thrived with the Flyers after being recalled from the Phantoms, even though he played fewer minutes than he did in the AHL.
“That’s the experience,” Gordon said, mindful Aube-Kubel has played four-plus pro seasons, while Rubtsov has played in just 60 pro games. “I’m sure at some point, [Aube-Kubel] said to himself, ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they don’t send me down.’
“And if you watched him play, he was terrific. I think he finally figured out that if he’s going to stay there, he can’t have any shifts off. As coaches in the American League, we see these players who come in from junior and college, they’re not accustomed to what it takes to bring it every night.”
The Flyers need Rubtsov to blossom. General manager Ron Hextall took a gamble by selecting him 22nd overall in 2016. (He took Pascal Laberge at 36th overall.) Hextall and the NHL’s other general managers, except for Chicago, bypassed Alex DeBrincat, who went 39th overall to the Blackhawks and has become a high-quality left winger.
The Flyers still believe Rubtsov will be an NHL player, still believe he’s young enough to blossom if he can stay healthy for a full season.
They hope the 2020-21 season turns into his coming-of-age year.
The more I talk to NHL executives, the more I believe this season will resume in July and end in September. If that happens, look for the 2020-21 season to start in November or December.
If the league bags its All-Star Game in 2020-21 and the one-week bye teams receive, there is a possibility they could still play 82 games next season.
To be truthful, 70 games is long enough, but that would cut into TV revenue, so the league is expected to try to play as many games as possible.
Tuesday: Forty-six years ago from this date, Rick MacLeish scored a first-period power-play goal and Bernie Parent was flawless in the nets as the Flyers defeated Boston, 1-0, in Game 6 at the electric Spectrum and captured their first Stanley Cup.
Wednesday: On this date in 2004, Simon Gagne’s goal gave the Flyers a 5-4 OT win over visiting Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Flyers dropped Game 7 in Tampa.
Thursday: Thirty-five years ago, the host Flyers stunned powerful Edmonton, 4-1, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. It would be their only win in the series.
With the AHL canceling the remainder of the season, how will that affect calling up a prospect if and when the season resumes?
(@doublewing.com via Twitter)
Answer: Thanks for the question. This is all new territory in a coronavirus world and the NHL has made no formal announcement about call-ups, but some general managers say they expect rosters to be expanded to 30 players if the season continues.